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PAUL R. BECKERT v. ANDREW L. WARREN (12/22/81)

decided: December 22, 1981.

PAUL R. BECKERT, PRESIDENT JUDGE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE JUDGES OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, PLAINTIFFS
v.
ANDREW L. WARREN, ELAINE P. ZETTICK, AND CARL F. FONASH, COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND MEMBERS OF THE BUCKS COUNTY SALARY BOARD, WARD F. CLARK, ESQUIRE, CONTROLLER AND MEMBER OF THE BUCKS COUNTY SALARY BOARD, WILLIAM P. SNYDER, TREASURER OF THE COUNTY OF BUCKS, AND PAUL R. BECKERT, PRESIDENT JUDGE AS A MEMBER OF THE BUCKS COUNTY SALARY BOARD, DEFENDANTS



No. 1 E.D. Misc. Docket 1981, Action in Equity and Mandamus under this Court's Plenary Jurisdiction.

COUNSEL

Henry T. Reath, Michael M. Baylson, George E. Pierce, Philadelphia, for plaintiffs.

Robert L. White, County Sol., Ward F. Clark, County Comptroller, Doylestown, for defendants.

O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, Kauffman and Wilkinson, JJ. Nix, J., concurs in the result.

Author: O'brien

[ 497 Pa. Page 139]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This action was precipitated by the breakdown of negotiations between the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County

[ 497 Pa. Page 140]

    and the Bucks County Commissioners concerning that court's budgetary requirements for fiscal 1981. Although this dispute originates at the county level, it represents a deadlock between the judicial and legislative branches of government in the exercise of their respective powers. Such a deadlock calls into question the relationship between those branches and the extent of their powers, and its resolution is crucial to both the unified judicial system and county governments throughout this Commonwealth.

The budget proposal for 1981 which the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas submitted to the Bucks County Commissioners, in addition to providing for the maintenance of existing personnel and programs, called, inter alia, for the funding of a number of new positions to meet what the court considered its immediate and anticipated future needs. Court and county officials conferred several times in October and November of 1980, yet on December 10, 1980, the county published a proposed 1981 budget which not only excluded funding for these new positions but also provided for reductions in the Court's existing staff. Subsequent meetings were apparently fruitless, as the county's 1981 budget in its final form continued to reflect these limitations on court staffing.*fn1

[ 497 Pa. Page 141]

Plaintiffs, the judges of the Court of Common Pleas acting through Paul R. Beckert, President Judge, instituted this action in their own court on December 30, 1980, seeking to enjoin defendant County Commissioners from adopting any budget for 1981 which did not provide for full funding of the court's requests, and to enjoin defendant county Salary Board members from either eliminating existing positions from its manning tables or from adopting manning tables which did not provide for the requested new positions. In addition, plaintiffs sought a writ of mandamus compelling defendants to comply with the court's budget demands. Plaintiffs grounded their entitlement to relief on "the inherent power [of the judiciary] to determine and compel the budgeting, appropriation and payment by the executive and legislative branches of those sums that are reasonable and necessary to carry out its mandated responsibilities for the judicial administration." (Plaintiffs' Complaint at 2)

On the same date, Judge Robert A. Freedberg of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, specially assigned, issued a preliminary injunction. Justice Rolf Larsen of this Court vacated that injunction on December 31, 1980, and the County Commissioners immediately took the steps necessary to adopt its 1981 budget. The threatened personnel reductions have not, however, been implemented during the pendency of this action.

Plaintiffs filed a petition in this Court on January 12, 1981, asking that we assume plenary jurisdiction of their action. On March 30, 1981, we granted the petition, simultaneously, remanding the matter to Commonwealth Court for

[ 497 Pa. Page 142]

    an expedited hearing.*fn2 Judge David W. Craig was designated hearing judge by President Judge Crumlish. The hearing began on June 11, and, after nine days of testimony, concluded on June 25, 1981. At the commencement of the hearing, Judge Craig ruled, inter alia, that plaintiffs bore the burden of proof, and that defendants were not entitled to a jury trial. On July 22, Judge Craig submitted to this Court his findings of fact and conclusions of law as to those issues not resolved prior to or in the course of the expedited hearing.*fn3 His submission reflects the following conclusions:

"F. Plaintiff has sustained its burden of proof with respect to establishing the following new positions for necessary judicial functions not now being performed:

Four (4) collection officers

Three (3) clerk stenographers

One (1) URESA specialist

Two (2) microfilm clerks

One (1) procedural auditor

G. Plaintiff has sustained the burden of establishing that efficient judicial administration requires the existing tipstaff positions, minute clerk positions and court stenographer positions, and also requires the following additional positions:

Five (5) judicial clerks

H. Plaintiff has not sustained the burden of establishing that efficient judicial administration requires the following additional positions:

Five (5) clerk stenographers, in the domestic relations section

One (1) conference officer supervisor

[ 497 Pa. Page 143]

One (1) secretary for the above supervisor

Two (2) tipstaves

One (1) minute clerk

Two (2) court stenographers

I. The non-union court personnel, for 1981, are entitled to a cost-of-living wage or salary increase of seven percent (7%), to be granted retroactively from January 1, 1981."*fn4

Beckert v. Warren, supra, at 38-40 (Conclusions of Law "F" through "I").

Both parties filed exceptions in this Court to Judge Craig's determinations.*fn5 We referred these exceptions to Judge Craig for consideration and disposition, and on October 14, 1981, he dismissed all exceptions. Pursuant to this Court's sua sponte order entered immediately thereafter, argument of this matter was heard on October 28, 1981, in Philadelphia.

Because this Court has retained plenary jurisdiction of this matter, no final decree has been entered. Both parties have, however, been given the opportunity to file exceptions to Judge Craig's findings of fact and conclusions of law, and to present briefs and argument in support of those exceptions. Accordingly, it is appropriate and in the interest of an expeditious resolution of the instant dispute that we consider it as in appellate posture. We have therefore reviewed only those findings of fact and conclusions of law to which specific exceptions have been raised. For reasons to be fully discussed below, we now adopt all of Judge Craig's determinations as to the reasonable necessity of the

[ 497 Pa. Page 144]

    new and existing positions at issue herein, as well as his determination that plaintiffs' non-union employees should be granted a seven percent salary increase retroactive to January 1, 1981. The salary levels of the new positions so approved must be fixed by the Salary Board, contrary to Judge Craig's conclusion that the salary levels should be set at the rates requested by plaintiffs.

I. Constitutional Background

The existence of the judiciary's inherent power to compel expenditures necessary to prevent the impairment of its exercise of the judicial power or of the proper administration of justice is well established. See Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa. 45, 274 A.2d 193, cert. denied sub nom. Tate v. Pennsylvania ex rel. Jamieson, 402 U.S. 974, 91 S.Ct. 1665, 29 L.Ed.2d 138 (1971) (plurality opinion); Leahey v. Farrell, 362 Pa. 52, 66 A.2d 577 (1949); Commonwealth ex rel. Hepburn v. Mann, 5 Watts & Serg. 403 (1843); In re Surcharge of County Commissioners, 12 Pa. D. & C. 471 (C.P. Lackawanno 1929) (Maxey, J.); see generally Annot., 59 A.L.R.3d 569 (1974) and cases cited therein. The circumstances in which the exercise of such power is justified, however, must be clearly delineated.

The notion of the inherent power of the judiciary is implicit in the doctrine of separation of powers. We discussed this fundamental doctrine recently in Zemprelli v. Daniels, 496 Pa. 247 at 254, 436 A.2d 1165 at 1168 (Pa.Sup.Ct. 1981), quoting Sweeney v. Tucker, 473 Pa. 493, 507-508, 375 A.2d 698, 705 (1977):

"A basic precept of our form of government is that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are independent, co-equal branches of government. Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa. 45, 274 A.2d 193 (1971) (plurality opinion); Stander v. Kelly, 433 Pa. 406, 250 A.2d 473 (1969) (plurality opinion). The dividing lines among the three branches 'are sometimes indistinct and are probably incapable of any precise definition.' Stander v. Kelly, 433 Pa. at 421-22, 250 A.2d at 482 (plurality opinion).

[ 497 Pa. Page 145]

Under the principle of separation of the powers of government, however, no branch should exercise the functions exclusively committed to another branch. See Wilson v. Philadelphia School District, 328 Pa. 225, 195 A. 90 (1937); Bailey v. Waters, 308 Pa. 309, 162 A. 819 (1932). See generally Stander v. Kelly, supra; Townships of Springdale & Wilkins v. Mowod, 23 Pa. Commw. 298, 352 A.2d 194 (1976), rev'd. on other grounds, [474] Pa. [82], 376 A.2d 983 [1977]; Jones v. Packel, 20 Pa. Commw. 606, 342 A.2d 434 (1975)." (emphasis supplied)

The allocation of these governmental powers to three distinct branches averts the danger inherent in the concentration of absolute power in a single body:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

The Federalist No. 47 (J. Madison). However, the separation of powers would not achieve this prophylactic effect unless it also prevented one branch from usurping the powers committed to the other branches of government. The crucial function of the separation of powers principle, therefore, is not separation per se, but the "checking" power each branch has over the others. See The Federalist No. 51 (J. Madison); see also 1 K. Davis, Admin. Law Treatise, ยง 1.09, at 68-69 (1958).

Thus, while the judicial power is vested exclusively in the courts, the taxing and spending powers necessary to sustain the existence of the judiciary is vested in the legislature. As we explained in Leahey ...


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